“You have seen him often”
‘The Round-Up’, directed by Miklós Jancsó in 1965, is a Hungarian prison drama set in the 19th century. Following an attempted revolution in the country, the supporters of Lajos Kossuth are held in brutal prison camps. One, in the middle of the sun-blasted wastes of the Hungarian puszta becomes the site of a battle of wills between the prisoners and the guards as the latter hunt for guerrillas, including their leader Sándor Rózsa, all of whom supported Kossuth. The movie is starkly presented: the camera often static or slowly panning to reveal the setting, focusing on the buildings rather than the humans and the lack of non-diegetic music. The actors are also subdued and emotionless. All this creates a well-crafted feeling of uneasiness and tension as the guards attempt to use psychological and physical coercion to both divide the prisoners and to persuade the weaker ones to collaborate. Highlights include the details of the prison and the bizarre culture that develops in isolation from civilization. The hoods the prisoners are made to wear (seen in the movies poster) are emblematic of their enforced anonymity, but also to a modern audience they’re reminiscent of the images from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal during the Iraq war in 2003. The comparison with this modern event, indicates how the abuse and the shockingly brutal ending in the film are moments that are, in a sense, timeless. In Hungary in the 1960s when the movie was produced, only eleven years after another attempted revolution this time against the Soviet Union, these themes would have been all the more brave and politically charged. So as with the Czech film ‘Daisies’ and Miloš Forman’s ‘The Fireman’s Ball’, the thing that makes ‘The Round-Up’ so compelling is partly the courage it reveals on behalf of the production team.
Would I recommend it? Yes – Jancsó directed a number of films that I’ll slowly get round to – but I’d suggest watching in a double-bill with one of the other politically charged Eastern European movies, perhaps ‘The Firemen’s Ball’ for the contrast in tone.